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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Jul 9 1997
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Fassbinder, Part 2
The second week of the Pacific Film Archive's R.W. Fassbinder retrospective continues with the screening of several more early works by the "Tartar-faced" Teuton (to quote the great but not late critic Manny Farber, who was erroneously struck from the roles of the living by this corner last week). Still drawn, like last week's films, from the filmmaker's prolific output of 1969 and 1970, this weekend's batch expand their horizons to include several of the experiments that eventually freed Fassbinder from the Munich beer hall milieu that so dominates his early work. Not all of Fassbinder's early experiments work, to be sure -- Thursday's The Niklashausen Journey is an excruciatingly and deliberately boring stab at agitprop, a period political gesture that faintly mimics such contemporaneous works as Godard's Weekend or Glauber Rocha's Antonio Das Mortes.

It is Fassbinder's previously unseen Whity that is the real discovery of the weekend. Hitherto Whity has been known only for the trauma of its gestation, commemorated in the director's well-known film about the psychoses of filmmaking, Beware of a Holy Whore, which screens with Whity on Saturday and again next Thursday. A sort of chamber made-in-Spain western, Whity oscillates between a Tara-like Southern plantation inexplicably located in the Old West, and a saloon/brothel populated by a singing Hannah Schygulla and Fassbinder as a racist lout. The heart of the film is GYnther Kauffmann's turn as the one competent member of a family of weaklings -- he's black and decent, while his depraved brethren are simpering albinos. Yet he has accepted the virtues of white civilization, and his bitter mother, the family maid, is seen as right to call him "Whity" for that sin. Fassbinder's use of the venerable genre of the western looks forward to the director's great melodramas of the mid-1970s, his most successful blend of politics and drama, for which Whity the film is a not inconsiderable sketch.

-- Gregg Rickman

The retrospective "Rainer Werner Fassbinder" runs through August at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and July 25 to Aug. 7 at the Castro in S.F. For a complete schedule, see Reps Etc., Page 75.

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Gregg Rickman

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